An oft repeated adage is that when the leaders lack vision, the people perish. Nothing could be truer as demonstrated by Texas today. Our governor and fellow Republicans apparently believe that the way for Texas to prosper is to keep taxes low, wages low and any benefits or consideration for the average worker almost non-existent. While Texas has provided great opportunities for the wealthy, who are drawn here because of the low taxes and low wages, Texas has not done right by the poor — nor the middle class. Shortsighted policies of the current conservative leadership of Texas indicate serious lack of vision for the future of our state.
Lack of vision is clearly shown in the fact that because of our stubborn reluctance to consider any increase of revenue in this state, our gasoline tax, the primary source of supporting our highway system, has been unchanged for several decades. We have reached the point in Texas where there is no money available for new construction. Lack of funding for our highways has led to more toll roads for Texans and a greater bonded indebtedness saddled on Texas taxpayers than ever in the history of this state. Second only to education, a decent infrastructure in a state is essential to future prosperity.
There is little sense debating the fact that education and future economic growth are inexorably linked. One has to look no further than the fact that under the current leadership of Rick Perry and Republicans, doubling college tuition in a few short years has made it more difficult to create a college-educated workforce for the future.
Shortchanging education by cutting public education’s budget by more than $4 billion is further evidence of the lack of vision of our leadership. Despite claims to the contrary by our governor, lieutenant governor and others, the funding of Texas education on a per-pupil basis substantially trails the national average. While business leaders proclaim the future of America’s economy will depend on a workforce trained in such courses as math and science, Texas has a woeful deficiency in graduating students proficient in math and science, both from our public school system and our colleges and universities.
Efforts to increase Texas’ commitment to catching up with the rest of the nation in education have largely been brought about by lawsuits and federal mandates. Further evidence of lack of vision among our Republican leadership is exemplified by Sen. Florence Shapiro, current chair of the Senate Education Committee. and Congressman Culberson of Houston. Shapiro suggests the way to deal with our current teacher shortage in the math and science area is to trim the math and science requirements for high school graduation. When the Supreme Court of Texas ruled the Legislature had failed to comply with the constitutional mandate of offering an efficient system of free public education, Culberson’s suggestion was that we simply amend the Constitution to remove that mandate. Unfortunately, during a recent session, the Legislature at least in part followed Culberson’s suggestion by changing the legal requirement that assures adequate funding of public education in Texas.
The current vision of our governor in Texas of low taxes, low wages and suppression of organized labor will lead us soon to the status of many undeveloped nations of the world. Already, Texas is starting to resemble some in many respects including, according to a national foundation studying the rate of rich to poor, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few Texans. Currently, Texas is among the leaders of the nation in high school dropouts, teenage pregnancies, working Texans living in poverty and the most children of any state in the nation with inadequate health care
Considering the above facts, building an economy characterized by a poor and uneducated workforce is not calculated to improve Texans’ status near the bottom in per capita wealth of its citizens. If our current governor continues to successfully advocate low taxes, low expenditures, starving of higher education and our public education, future generations will be robbed of high-paying, high-skilled jobs. If Texas voters continue to vote for right-wing conservatives who expound and advocate promising no new taxes no matter what the cost, all of us will reap what they sow.
Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas.